Opera Houses and Theaters in DuBois
The City of DuBois has had a number of theaters over the years. Some contained stages and others contained movie screens. Either way, the locals were entertained.
An Opera House was built in 1880. It opened in November and was destroyed by fire the third night after opening
The Central Opera House opened on January 2, 1883 and seated 900. White pine was used instead of steel. The third and fourth floors were used for the opera house. In the beginning, due to the City’s rough reputation, good troupes would not perform here. It was destroyed in the fire of 1888.
The DuBois Opera House, as built by John DuBois, was started in the spring of 1885 and finished in 1886. With a 1,200 seating capacity, 8 large dressing rooms, and 16 complete sets of scenery, it opened on December 4, 1886 with the play “ Richelieu.” A ventilation system carried hot air from the Iron Works into the building. Male theater patrons wore top hats and gloves and women wore evening gowns.
In 1887, a man named Sid Fuller foreclosed on a Baptist church on E. Long Avenue and opened it as the Fuller Opera House. John Philip Sousa and his Marching Band performed there. In 1898, after Fuller died, his widow married a Baptist preacher and gave the building back to the church, now the Bethany Covenant Church. From 1901 to 1902, DuBois had no theaters.
The Avenue Theater, originally called the Opera House, was built in 1901 and opened on September 2, 1902. During silent movies, an in-house orchestra performed the music. The theater contained two balconies, with tickets for less expensive seats. The top balcony was nicknamed “peanut heaven” since kids tended to throw peanuts and shells on the people below.
In the early 1920s, vaudeville shows and traveling road shows passing through on their way to New York would play at the Avenue. Broadway stars such as Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald, Ray Bolger and Buddy Ebsen performed there.
The Avenue Theater was later refitted for motion picture projection and spent many good years as the place to go on a romantic first date or as a place where children entered strange new worlds. Much later, after being closed for years, the Avenue Theater was torn down in 1980. St. Michael’s Terrace is located in its place.
The Harris/Pershing Theatre in the 1940s.
The Commercial Hotel, later renamed the Pershing Hotel, opened in 1889 during a time when the City was growing economically. Until 1912, there were nineteen passenger trains arriving in DuBois every day. Many travelers stayed in the Commercial Hotel
The hotel changed owners a few times. In 1937, the hotel underwent a major renovation. Two of the three storerooms were replaced with a movie theater, named the Harris Theater which opened on October 27, 1937 and showed classic films such as “Gone with the Wind.” The Harris Theater was later renamed the Pershing Theater, and later still The Playhouse Theater. Years before drive-ins, an open air theater named the Airdrome existed on the corner of Brady Street and Park Avenue. Due to rain and cool weather, it lasted only two years, 1914 and 1915.
During the early years of the motion picture industry, “Nickelodeons” sprang up in DuBois. The Wonderland was located across from the current Sunny 106 Radio station on West Long Avenue and the Dreamland was in the former Damus building. The Empire Theater was built around 1910 and the Lyric Theater was built in 1911. The Princess Theater was just beyond the B.R. & P. Railroad on Long Avenue. The current E & G Auto Parts store is there now. Later, under new management, it was renamed the Family Theater. The Brinks Theater, in the site of the former Boucher’s Toys and later Talking Tree, was famous for showings of the serial “The Perils of Pauline.” Another Nickelodeon was also on West Long Avenue, across from the Brinks.
These were basically narrow store rooms that were slightly altered to become Nickelodeons. Projectors were hand-cranked and could be speeded up to squeeze in more matinees.
The Carlton Theater was where today’s Ben Rossi Jewelry is on West Long Avenue. It was noted for its vaudeville shows and the many western movies it played.
The DuBois Mall opened in 1972 and, a few years later, after a plaza was added in 1975, the Twin Cinemas opened. One of the first movies shown there was “The Deep” based on a book by Peter Benchley, the author who wrote Jaws. It expanded as it took over connecting stores and is now the Cinemas V.
In 1963, The DuBois Area Theater Arts Group was formed. During the 60s and mid-70s, the group produced many former Broadway shows, the first being “Guys and Dolls.” The productions were comprised of local talent and were quite successful.
In 1984-85, when the DuBois Renaissance, Inc. was being organized, local theater advanced. The former Pershing Hotel and Playhouse Theater were purchased and renamed The New DuBois Playhouse. This opened in July of 1988 with the performance of “When You Wish Upon a Star.” From August through December 1988, the Open Door Theater Company (a professional theater company in residence for 4 months) produced a number of plays. The New DuBois Playhouse closed on December 31, 1988.
In 1988, the newly formed POPS (Performing Organization for Performers) began to tour alternative sites for a performing arts center. In February 1989, the Cultural Information Center was established at 103 North Brady Street. In April 1990, CRI (Cultural Resources, Inc.) was formed as an adjunct corporation to POPS. CRI sought to acquire, maintain and manage a center for the arts
In 1884, St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church was built on 36 Scribner Avenue. It survived the ‘Great Fire of 1888.’ In 1892, the church became the first DuBois public building to have electric lights.
The Cornerstone Church was purchased in June 1992 with a rent back provision until a new place could be found. The remainder of the year was spent preparing for the 1993 opening season. The first performance was of “Steel Magnolias.”
In May of 1993, the former church was renamed The Paul G. Reitz Theater. Paul Reitz was the founder of Riverside Markets, a grocery store chain. The site of the first store was in Brookville. It was named Riverside because it was located near Red Bank Creek. Riverside was the first store in the United States to install electric eye doors. The second Riverside was in Sykesville and the third, in 1950, opened in DuBois on the site that had been the former Rumbarger House, built by one of the founding families of DuBois. Paul Reitz helped set up the DuBois United Fund in 1953 and raised millions of dollars to help the local community. Because of all of his good work, the new theater is named after him.
The number of theaters in DuBois has dwindled, but with the Cinemas V at the DuBois Mall and the Reitz Theater still in operation in town, the locals are still being entertained.
Gene M. Aravich